Mikel Arteta's playmaker problem: Arsenal boss facing transfer decision over four players
Mikel Arteta has been there before as a player for Arsenal and therefore knows it what takes to be a playmaker.
The Spaniard spent five years at the Emirates Stadium in Arsene Wenger’s midfield and made over 150 appearances in that time.
He has also been in the dugout for the best part of 18 months, so it is fair to assume the 40-year-old knows exactly what he is looking for to fill the vacant playmaker spot.
Arteta played a key role in Mesut Ozil’s protracted exit from the club in January after the German’s loss of form and subsequent falling out with his manager.
The Gunners boss would have felt that with Emile Smith Rowe, Martin Odegaard and Dani Ceballos available, he had adequate options at his disposal to cope with Ozil's departure.
But with Odegaard and Ceballos returning to Real Madrid and Smith Rowe’s future seemingly uncertain amid interest from Aston Villa, Arteta may be forced into entering the transfer market to sign a new No.10.
Mirror Football assesses the four options available to the Arsenal head coach as he assembles his squad for the forthcoming season.
Stick with Smith Rowe
It is a sign of the times that interest from Aston Villa has caused a stir at Arsenal over one of their brightest talents.
The ambitious Villains are keen to add another English talent to their ranks and have had two bids, believed to be worth £25m and £30m, turned down by Arsenal.
But there is confidence from the club that Emile Smith Rowe will remain at the club for many years to come.
The 20-year-old has finally put pen to paper on a new contract, it was announced on Thursday.
Smith Rowe has emerged as one of Arsenal’s key players after forcing his way into Arteta’s plans, quickly becoming a fans’ favourite with some dynamic displays from the left flank.
He opened his Premier League account in the 3-1 win over West Brom last season with an incisive finish and added to that with the winner against Chelsea in his next game.
Ending the season with four assists alongside his two strikes, it suggests a bright future awaits him at the Emirates.
There are high hopes that Smith Rowe can eventually become Arsenal’s very own Jack Grealish and fill the role of their main playmaker — and that is why Arteta was desperate to tie down the youngster to a new contract.
Odegaard’s second coming
Competition for places is fierce at Real Madrid and while the Spanish giants recalled Odegaard from his loan spell at Arsenal, there remains a chance he could return this summer.
New boss Carlo Ancelotti wanted to run the rule over his full playing squad before making decisions on who to keep and which players to offload.
But reports in Spain suggest the Italian is still undecided over which group the 22-year-old belongs in. With Isco, Marco Asensio and Ceballos all competing for the same position, Odegaard could be the fall guy.
Arteta has made little effort to hide his admiration for the Norwegian and confirmed back in May the club wants to keep him beyond his initial six-month loan.
“We've tried to make everything that we could to get Martin performing for the team, which I think he's done” Arteta told the club’s official website.
“He has adapted really well to our way of playing and to our football club. Hopefully we have given him the hope and the feeling that this could be a good place for him.”
The sticking point is Arsenal’s transfer budget. With no European football this season and £75m set to be spent on Ben White, Nuno Tavares and Albert Sambi Lokonga, any deal for Odegaard would surely have to include another loan.
Splash out on Maddison
Recent reports in the Daily Mail claim Arsenal will offer Leicester a players-plus-cash deal to sign James Maddison this summer.
That could include fringe players Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles as makeweights, with a £50m fee on top, to secure the 24-year-old’s signature. But would they be getting the better end of such a deal?
There can no questioning Maddison’s reputation has taken a dent across the last 12 months. Last summer, he was interesting both Manchester clubs after a fine season in which he scored 11 goals and assisted 10.
In 2020-21, that total lowered to eight goals and five assists, and Maddison failed to register a goal contribution in his final 10 appearances of the season.
There have been questions over his professionalism, having been dropped by Leicester after circumventing coronavirus lockdown regulations in March.
He also missed out on England’s Euro 2020 squad, with Grealish and Bukayo Saka preferred by Gareth Southgate. But perhaps with some fine tuning under Arteta, he could become an important signing.
Risk it all for Aouar
There is an opportunity for Arsenal to pick up a bargain this summer but it comes with a risk.
Houssem Aoaur has emerged as one of the finest playmakers in Europe in recent seasons with Lyon and is reportedly available at a cut-price fee this summer.
Ligue 1 clubs are facing financial difficulties amid the collapse of a major TV deal and losses from the coronavirus pandemic and Lyon are one of the clubs affected, with the French side hoping to cash in on their stars to raise funds.
It is believed that Aoaur could be available for just £25m — a huge haircut on the fee Lyon demanded 12 months ago for the same player.
The 23-year-old is a France international and has demonstrated his ability on a consistent basis in the Champions League. A player of his ability available for such a low price in today’s market would represent an unmissable opportunity for Arsenal.
But unlike Smith Rowe, Odegaard and Maddison, he has no experience playing in the Premier League. It would resemble a gamble for Arteta, but the Spaniard could be tempted go all-in if Smith Rowe departs.
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